Egg donation – who is the mother?
One of the important and valid questions our egg donors ask is what their future involvement or responsibility might be if a child is conceived with the eggs they donated. Will the child look like the egg donor? Can the child seek out the egg donor in future? Is the egg donor the child’s mother?
The short answer is that if a baby is conceived by an egg donation recipient, the mom-to-be is considered the biological mother of the child in all respects. In addition, egg donation is absolutely anonymous in South Africa and the identities of the egg donor, the egg donation recipient and any children born using the donated eggs are kept completely confidential.
The longer answer is discussed in this article, and we look at why the birthmother – not the egg donor – is considered to be biological mother of a baby born from donated eggs; what egg donor recipients say about their children; as well as what the legal perspective is.
Are egg donors the biological mothers?
We all learnt that a person’s physical composition is determined by a unique genetic code. For each human trait, there is a gene or cluster of genes that are expressed. The building blocks of this genetic code are called DNA.
When an egg cell and a sperm cell combine, the individual DNA from each also combine. So, when a baby is conceived use a donor egg, the genes from the donor egg and from the sperm provider combine. The baby’s genetic code then consists of 50% from the egg donor and 50% from the sperm provider.
However, the science of epigenetics shows that on a practical level, heredity is determined by more than just DNA sequence. The switches (called epigenetic controls) that turn our genes on and off play an even greater role in health and development. We now know that the way that the DNA is ultimately decoded determines how the gene expresses itself, or appears, in the baby.
So, in the case of natural conception, the odds of the baby looking like the mom or the dad varies greatly and depends on numerous factors – most importantly the uterine environment. The same applies to assisted conception, whether donated eggs or donated sperm is used. The baby may or may not look like the egg donor or the egg recipient, or like the father or the sperm donor. Gene expression varies in so many ways that no one can definitively predict how a gene will express itself. Even if mom and dad have brown hair, there is no certainty that the baby will also have brown hair.
As mentioned, the uterine environment is one of the most important factors in determining the gene expression. The donor egg recipient is not just a live human incubator for a baby. She is the child’s biological mother, and the baby grows from her body which provides everything the foetus needs to grow and develop.
From the pregnant mom’s body, the baby receives the fluids and other compounds for 40 weeks of its development. This is delivered through the mother’s blood via the placenta – and so the mom’s flesh and blood literally grows the baby’s body. For this reason, regardless of the origin of the egg cell, the pregnant mom is considered the baby’ biological mother. And the baby is her biological child.
Ample research has shown that the prenatal uterine environment plays a crucial role in fetal brain development, childhood metabolism, immune health, and numerous other factors. In addition, the birthmother’s health and lifestyle choices also affect how the baby’s genes are expressed. An example is nutrition, which is crucial for the formation of uterine lining and the placenta. Poor nutrition may result in the foetus not receiving the nourishment required to express certain genes, even though they are present. Another example is stress – new evidence confirms that maternal psychological stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of adverse physical and mental outcomes for the baby.
It is also interesting that recent studies suggest that although the baby does not actually receive DNA coding from the egg recipient, even the recipient’s own DNA can influence how the baby develops. To cite just one example, the Fundacion Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad, a non-profit research centre for reproductive health, and Stanford University, have concluded that microRNA molecules secreted in the mother’s womb are capable of changing the genetic information of the developing foetus. This means there is evidence that a baby can even receive certain genetic inheritance from the egg recipient.
For all these reasons, if a baby is conceived by an egg donation recipient, the mom-to-be is considered the biological mother of the child in all respects.
What egg donor recipients say about their babies
Egg donors will also find peace of mind in the fact that women who conceive with donor eggs also absolutely consider themselves to be the biological mothers of the babies.
These women confirm that the love they have for their babies and the bond they share with their babies is not affected in any way by the fact that the babies were conceived using an egg from a donor. In fact, many moms who have had a baby via egg donation, have another child with a donor egg, knowing that they could not love their babies more – not even if the babies had been conceived with their own eggs.
The legal perspective
Also from a legal perspective, a donor egg baby is the legal child of the birth mother. After a child is born from donor eggs or donor sperm, the recipients are legally and completely responsible for the baby. The donor has no legal rights and no responsibilities in terms of the children born from his or her donations. The donor is also never legally obliged for financial assistance.
In addition, according to South African law, egg donation (like sperm donation) is always anonymous.
Egg donation agencies, by law, must maintain the anonymity of both the egg donor and the recipient. In this respect, no identifying information may be passed between donor and recipient, no meetings between donors and recipients are allowed, and no adult photos of the donors may be shared with the recipient. However, egg donation agencies are allowed to show baby or child photos of the donor up until a maximum of age 10. Furthermore, no contact will be allowed between the donor and the potential child in the future.
These laws also confirm that a donor egg baby is the legal child of the birthmother, and not of an egg donor.
Your next step
If you are one of a very special group of women who are willing to donate eggs to help other women create the families they long for, you can rest assured that your donation will not have future implications. From a scientific perspective, from the point of view of the egg donation recipient, and from a legal perspective, the birth mother is the biological mother of the child, even if the baby was conceived with a donated egg.
There are many places in South Africa where you can donate your eggs. But in our opinion, the best place is at the world-renowned Cape Fertility in the planet’s most beautiful city, Cape Town.
Even if you don’t live in Cape Town, you can still donate your eggs with us. If you are selected as a Cape Fertility egg donor, we will arrange for you to travel to Cape Town and stay here for the duration of the egg donation process, at no charge to yourself!
To find out more, simply fill in your contact details here, or contact our Egg Donor Fairy God Mother, Linda, on 066 22 55 003 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your information is 100% confidential and will under no circumstances be made available to anybody else.
We look forward to welcoming you to our friendly, professional and leading Egg Donor Program!